Thursday, January 20, 2011

New Zodiac, Tiger Mothers and 'Memes'.

I came to a realization lately that the word 'meme' doesn't mean, any more, what I thought it did.

A meme is a contagious idea. But these days, 'meme' is used to mean anything trending on Twitter. People talk about Facebook memes (anyone remember 'Not Being On Fire'). These things trend for a while, then they vanish.

And sure, they seem to be contagious, but like the common cold, they disappear and are forgotten. Essentially, the idea of a meme is being watered down.

Truthfully, a 'meme' is supposed to be the transmission of culture in the way a 'gene' is of biological makeup. 'Not Being On Fire' was amusing, but it was not a meme. Most people have forgotten it.

The same thing is almost certainly going to happen with the 'New Zodiac'. No serious astrologer is adopting it. It's going to flash, burn out, and be forgotten. I would argue that for something to be a meme it has to cause real and true change in the life of the person receiving the idea.

Universal education is a meme. So is the idea that it is inappropriate to beat your children...something which most modern westerners forget was perfectly acceptable not all that long ago. On the darker side, so is fascism.

Those are memes. Memes are dangerous, because once you catch one, you can't get rid of it. For good or bad, a meme spreads...and it's like AIDS. In your system for good unless you happen to be somehow 'immune'.

The New Zodiac is too weak a meme to take control of anything and even if it did, who cares what star sign you say you are? On the other hand, the 'Tiger Mother' kerfuffle may well turn into an actual meme as some parents try the methods discussed in the book. Is it dangerous?

Any idea is. Any idea is dangerous to somebody. But we need to stop watering down the concept of a 'meme' before we get blindsided by a truly dangerous one. Or maybe we already are. Extreme secularism is a meme, and its a meme gaining in strength in parts of Europe. In America, we have freedom of religion. Some parts of the world are trying to give their people freedom FROM religion. On the other side, Islamic extremism is also a meme.

Maybe we need to start planting a few good ones...and they have to be more serious than new Zodiac signs or not being on fire.